Guest: Jack Estes
Presenter: Neal Howard
Guest Bio: Jack Estes was a decorated United States Marine who served during the bloodiest years of Vietnam. He previously wrote the critically-acclaimed memoir, A Field of Innocence, which recounts his experiences in Vietnam. His articles and essays have appeared in Newsweek, Wall Street Journal, Chicago Tribune, LA Times, San Diego Tribune, The Oregonian, and many publications. He created the Fallen Warriors Foundation, an organization to honor the memory and sacrifices of American soldiers and help heal the pain of war.
Segment overview: Jack Estes, author of the new novel “A Soldier’s Son,” and decorated Vietnam Veteran, discusses living with PTSD and what needs to be done to help veterans of all wars and their families to fully heal.
Health Professional Radio – Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
Neal Howard: Hello and welcome to the program, I’m your host Neal Howard. Thank you for joining us today on Health Professional Radio. In the past several weeks shootings took place against police officers and in the aftermath of that, it was discovered that the shooters had military experience. Now in that same time period USA Today released a story that back a couple of years ago in 2014 there were 20 veteran suicides per day. So basically no matter how you look at it, it might seem that vets and military members may not be receiving the treatment and care that they need, particularly when it comes to life threatening and life altering PTSD. Our guest in studio today is Author of the new novel, a soldier’s son and decorated Vietnam veteran, Jack Estes, he’s here in studio to discuss with us living with PTSD and what needs to be done from a veteran standpoint to fully heal when it comes to PTSD. Welcome to Health Professional Radio Jack.
Jack Estes: Thanks for having me on.
N: Thank you so much and thank you so much for your service.
J: You bet.
N: You’re a decorated Vietnam veteran, the Vietnam war was highly controversial as our all wars when you boil it right down. The Vietnam war in particular what was it that led you to the military in the first place?
J: Well I was attending college and I was flunking out of college and I had no job. I certainly didn’t have a family that provided any support and my girlfriend was pregnant so we got together and tried to figure out what we could do and so I decided that I would join the Marine Corps, we made that decision together and at least the Marine Corps would be able to pay for my well was my girlfriend and we eventually got married but pay for our baby’s birth. So I really didn’t know much about the Vietnam War to tell you the truth. I didn’t know what we were fighting for, I didn’t even know where Vietnam was. So that’s really what happened and how I ended up in the Marines and in Vietnam, I was only 18 and most of my well I’d say extracurricular time was involved in sports although I was involved in speech and theatre as well.
N: So you find yourself in boot, you graduate boot and then you find yourself in country. You’re seeing things that you never thought you’d see like you say you never even knew where Vietnam was. You didn’t know what you’re fighting for but you know you’re damn sure fighting. You’re seeing things, you’re experiencing things, you’re forming relationships. Talk about some of what was going on in your mind as an 18 – 19 year old dropped into this situation?
J: Well look first of all boot camp does not prepare you psychologically for the impact of war and when we got off the plane I was shocked to see a guy standing there with a scout dog strapped with a 45 in an ice cream bar at the airport and so that was kind of a shock of course. And then the first night I was standing in a two or three story building that was for the people coming into Vietnam and the people that were rotating home or going on R ‘n R and that night we got hit and we’re running down the stairs to get outside to a trench line and somebody screams ‘FN rockets’ and I’d never heard that term. We weren’t told or taught about rockets, artillery is one thing but to receive rockets was extremely frightening to me and then a couple of days later when I was walking back for the mess hall, a rocket actually hit the mess hall mostly it was vacant. Hardly anyone was in there but the people that were in there some of them were killed and maimed, disfigured and that was very shocking because I only been in country for just a very few days.
N: Yeah, traumatic to say the least. So are these things that you tried to become used to, these experiences or is it something that you thought you may have become used to and I guess desensitized until certain problems started? What was it that caused you to realize that you had some things to deal with as far as coping?
J: I think mostly you don’t worry about coping, you’re not thinking about coping. you’re just trying to stay alive. And of course there were numerous events that happened along the way from your first fire fight, first time to see someone killed, the first time you kill someone as well, amazing events. And one of the things that was probably the event that turned my way of thinking was when I lived in a village with a combined… platoon for my last 6 months in Vietnam and it consisted of 10 marines and Navy corpsmen and 15 to 20 popular … soldiers and our job was to train the soldiers which were really civilians so that they can help protect themselves and one day there was a lot of contact, several… were being hit hard and we went over to help in that… unit and some Army personnel that came down from a base that was maybe a mile away and there were people that are trapped out in the middle of the rice patty. My friend and I went out to try to help the corps men who were severely wounded and during that time my friend was shot four times. I ran out of battle dressings so I tied his arm together, his shattered arm together with my sock and other people were wounded and the corps man that we were trying to help was wounded again and my friend is saying ‘Go home with my body.’ So once I got him back to the rear I just had, I’m not sure what they call it, I had a break and I was just so angry and upset because he was wounded and I thought that he was going to die. And after that moment I became flat and he lived and we made it back but I can tell from that moment that I had changed and so I didn’t feel that fear anymore – I felt nothing.
N: It’s interesting, you say you felt nothing. We often hear about post-traumatic stress disorder, we hear the clinical definition of it or we hear from it from a health care provider or maybe we’re hearing about it from a family member who’s concerned about one of us. But what is PTSD to you from a decorated Vietnam veteran’s point of view, what is post-traumatic stress disorder?
J: Well first of all anyone that serves in combat will have post-traumatic stress and the things that makes it horrible is when it becomes a disorder and where that stress affects your life in a negative way. Now for me being flat was in one way good because I wouldn’t panic at all and it was like I didn’t care about anything. The problem is you bring that home and remember I was married, I came home I was still 19 and had a child and that was in August of ’69. By November my wife had left me because I was uncaring, unfeeling, I had no empathy for anyone and that carried on for a large part of my life. I’ve been married to different women now for 35 years and but she has been… in helping me heal. And there are phases of post-traumatic stress that’s certainly there were for me, I had a great deal of violence the first year we were married to Colleen. I was married to Colleen my second wife, I was thrown in jail three times and probably the biggest thing that was finally diagnosed about me was it I had survivor guilt. I felt guilty about being alive, I used to hope that I would be walking down the street and someone would do a drive by shooting so I could get wounded more severely so people could see that I was hurt and it was hard to see that I was hurt inside than if I had a leg missing – well that would be better. So those were just some of the things about post-traumatic stress and how it impacted on me.
N: Now you’re an author, you’re the author of a new novel called A Soldier’s Son, you’ve also written a dozen other works, A Field of Innocence, a highly, a critically acclaimed memoire that recounted some of your experience in Vietnam, some of the ones that we’re talking about now. Now as the author of this new book, I’m sure that writing is well maybe therapeutic for you, I’ll go out on a limb I’ll speak for you and say it’s probably therapeutic in your writing. But you mentioned having no empathy, not caring – how do you start the conversation with a health care provider? How do you start the conversation and let them know that “Hey, I need help because I don’t care about you or anyone else or myself and I’m really guilty that I even survived the combat.” How do you get that conversation started in an effective way so that you can get the help that you need?
J: I think it’s a long process to get through the pain relative to post-traumatic stress disorder but the thing that you want to do is reveal rather than conceal. In that way you can move through the pain and move through healing and I guess it isn’t an overnight thing. It isn’t seeing a therapist once or twice. I’ve seen multiple therapists over the years and have gone to therapy and to WRAP groups and different things like that over a hundred times easily over these last years and I don’t think that a veteran that has PTSD is in any position to have a life… that’s what you’re seeing there with the therapist and the therapist needs to move gently and often slowly. I was afraid that when I first started seeing a therapist that they would think that I was totally crazy if I told them what some of the thoughts I have and of course they were violent and horrific and the other thing about being a veteran with PTSD is you think that you’re the only one that could think this kind of thought and then you feel bad for thinking about it and that’s why many veterans move towards self-medication, whether it’s alcohol or drugs or whatever. There’s just a whole litany of symptomatic behavior that veterans have and it changes from one to the other. Another big issue is that veterans is they miss the adrenaline surge. You know what it’s like to put on your magazines, your flak jackets, they call it body armor now, rifle and go out beyond the perimeter? Or to do that at night and that kind of adrenaline surge that can keep you up easily for 24, 36 hours or more. Well your body misses it and your mind misses it when you come back home and that’s why you see a lot of veterans hurt themselves and motorcycle wrecks and do things that are quite dangerous.
N: Where can our listeners get a copy of your new novel, A Soldier’s Son? And it deals with a Vietnam Veteran trying to help his son who’s in Iraq. Where can we get a copy of this brand new novel?
J: Well yeah, first of all you can go to amazon.com and order it there, you can go to Kindle, you can go to Barnes and Noble. There are many places that you can order and that’s your local bookstore will probably carry it. It’s also the distribution is handed through Ingram Sparks so just tell your bookstore that you can buy it through Ingram Sparks which means if you buy it and if the bookstore buys a number of copies of the book and some don’t sell then they can send those back.
N: Alright. Well Jack it’s been a pleasure talking with you today, I’m hoping that you’ll come back and talk with us in other segments not only are you an Author but you’re also the founder of the Fallen Warrior’s Foundation hoping you’ll come back in future segments and talk a little bit more about getting veterans the help they need to deal with PTSD.
J: Thank you.
N: Thank you. Transcripts and audio of this program are available at healthprofessionalradio.com.au and also at hpr.fm, you can subscribe to this podcast on iTunes. I’m your host Neal Howard, you’ve been listening to Health Professional Radio.